By Army Pfc. Derek Kuhn
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 26, 2009 - Coalition forces are outfitting the Afghan National Army by providing hundreds of weapons and dozens of up-armored Humvees through the NATO Force Modernization Project. The Afghan army's "Thunder Corps" will receive hundreds of weapons including M-16 rifles, M-249 squad automatic weapons, M-203 grenade launchers and M-240B machine guns. They also will receive about 40 up-armored Humvees by the time the fielding is complete.
"The program is intended to help modernize the 203rd Thunder Corps force," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Viggers, coordinator for 203rd Thunder Corps' up-armored Humvees and NATO weapons issue. "We are trying to bring them up to our standard. Then, they'll be better suited to accomplish the mission here."
The AK-47 assault rifle is the firearm issued to most Afghan National Army soldiers, but a few have started fielding the more accurate M-16 rifle.
Coalition forces are assisting Afghan soldiers by training leaders to train others and by helping to develop training regiments.
So far, the transition between weapons has been smooth, Viggers said.
"They are receiving the new equipment quite well," he said. "From most of the soldiers I have talked with, once they get to know the M-16 rifle, they learn to accept it and like its capabilities."
Some already are proficient with the M-16. "We have some really good shooters here," Viggers said.
The Afghan soldiers are learning to drive and maneuver the up-armored Humvees, which are capable of withstanding most explosives.
"They appreciate the added protection the up-armored Humvees bring," Viggers said. "The drivers are picking the training up pretty quickly."
Afghan soldiers are hand-selected for the force modernization program, and they undergo a battery of medical exams, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Denise Grechas, surgeon medical mentor for the 203rd Thunder Corps.
Exams include blood pressure, heartbeat, vision and a visual search for any physical deficiencies, as well as immunizations, all of which take about two days.
Once the medical exams are completed, soldiers begin their training. However, medical care is not forgotten. Health and sanitation are of paramount concern, which is why the 203rd Thunder Corps has produced picture pamphlets on sanitation.
A healthy corps is integral for its effectiveness, Grechas said.
A safe and stable Afghanistan is a goal of the 203rd Thunder Corps and the coalition forces involved in this program, officials said.
"I think it will be rewarding to see them take a step forward as far as the modernization of their military and [to see] the effect it's going to have on the Afghan population if we can help secure the country quicker," Viggers said.
(Army Pfc. Derek Kuhn serves with the 40th Public Affairs Detachment.)